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Yes, that Little Ice Age

20 Apr 2022 | OP ED Watch

Recently marquee Canadian columnist Terence Corcoran was subjected to the following thoughtful critique: “The climate change lying, denying and obfuscating Terence Corcoran is at it again. Here he is trotting out the little ice age myth.” Which Corcoran, no stranger to being the target of abuse masquerading as argument, cheerfully retweeted along with the original lying, denying and obfuscating story about a fascinating Canadian project (now you laugh, but we’re serious) to map the mythical Little Ice Age in Britain using an interactive GIS system to plot historical accounts of horrendous weather during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, when a sharp downward temperature cycle instead of restoring Eden, as modern alarmists would have you anticipate, seems to have brought stuff like floods and brutal cold snaps and high winds and lurid cartoons of the Welsh climbing trees while their cattle floated past their church spire.

It is not clear how much oil companies had to pay these long-departed Britons to conjure up tales of sleet and even tornadoes. But they got their money’s worth because it didn’t just turn up the Thames Frost Fairs. You got birds literally falling dead and frozen from the skies, famine and hoarding during the great spring snowfalls of 1600, and “the story of Yarmouth floodwaters that swept away an innkeeper and his son, along with their home and tools, and deposited them all six miles away into an inhospitable marsh.” What’s not to love?

Perhaps that that the project director, Madeline Bassnett, is not a climate scientist. Instead she’s a literary historian. Which some people might think a useful qualification for taking an offbeat but illuminating look at this topic via a treasure trove of offbeat evidence. As one of her colleagues said, “tree rings don’t tell you how fast the wind was blowing and they don’t give you context. They don’t tell you about how it felt to be in that extreme weather. I think there’s something to be said about combining the two sciences and seeing how that might impact people’s understanding of the climate at that time.” For instance convincing them that it was very lively.

That colleague, project “GIS specialist” Liz Sutherland, risked offending mathematicians and statisticians right down to the present day by commenting that “I got the fun part of the project. A spreadsheet is boring, even if it has really informative and exciting data in it. And so when I have the database, I get to make a map out of it. Then we can start to pick out trends and we can create a little chart showing the year-by-year distribution of the severe weather that we’re observing.”

Now if you’re wondering what on Earth possessed the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to fund such a lying, denying, obfuscating project, well, Bassnett checked one box, albeit eccentrically, with “A lot of the response to climate change today seems to be, ‘well, how do we control this?’ And one of the interesting things I’m finding in this early research is that there was much less of an interest in controlling weather and much more of an acceptance of having to work with it and be flexible and adjust…. Maybe we can learn from the past and see what we can integrate today in terms of our own thinking and grappling with our future.”

Yeah. Like thank goodness it warmed up naturally after that miserable episode. And what idiot wants it to get cold again? Even if it produces quaint orthography like how the 1563 storm in Sussex “made one of the queenes majesties ships called the Greiehound” smash into the shore. With hundreds killed. Cold is bad.

P.S. Corcoran’s retort included “The least you could do is check out Wikipedia”. But in fact Wikipedia’s article on the Little Ice Age does all it can to regionalize and minimize it simultaneously, using Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick to claim a gradual linear cooling from about 900 AD through at least 1800 rather than a swing down, a bottom, and a swing up. But their claim of “largely independent regional climate changes, rather than a globally synchronous increased glaciation” sounds like special pleading; after all they would hardly buy worldwide warming as “largely independent regional climate changes” that just happened to be in all regions. And they incautiously refer to the Medieval Warm Period although, again, their article on the subject pins the MWP to the North Atlantic before admitting that it was “likely related to temperature increases elsewhere” before using Mann’s chart to deny that it happened at all. Which sounds like obfuscation to us.

2 comments on “Yes, that Little Ice Age”

  1. It is amazing that tree rings can be accepted as evidence of warmer or cooler conditions. There are so many other local, regional or global conditions that can affect the width of tree rings. Rainfall, available sunshine, variation in season lengths, animal grazing on the tree or its surroundings, insect infestations, fertilization (animal poop or CO2), loss of foliage from hail or wind, and the list goes on.
    They can effect the quality of hockey sticks that you can make from them but that is only an aid to getting the puck outta here.
    "But it is warming way faster than in the past." I hear that argument often with the inference that that is dangerous.
    How do they know it is warming faster? The resolution of proxy evidence is not nearly fine enough and period averages are too dependent on start and end points to be of value.
    So many questions. I am told to follow the science, but which science? Perhaps from the armchair academics who go on a field trip every few years and reach ponderous conclusions from what they see that fit neatly into their preconceived notions. Model science, YEAH.
    It is April 20th and there is 6 inches of fresh snow outside my window instead of the normal green grass and flowers. Global cooling I say. The proof is right before my eyes. Oh yes, that is climate change too. Sorry

  2. Historians can play a very important role in telling us about how climate impacted events in earth's history, especially for the period where we have written record.

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